Is it correct to describe /o/ -> /u/ change in خانم xānum as nasalisation under the influence of the following /m/? What does general phonetics say about it? One Persian teacher said /m/ has nothing to do here.

And a Persian-specific question if you don’t mind it: the teacher said, ‘It’s a phonetic process in Persian.’ Well, is it indeed? Maybe it’s just a matter of history now?


It's probably related to the nasal consonant /m/ at the end of the word.

/xānom/ is the formal form of the word, which is spelled خانُم (though normally without the diacritic).

/xānum/, is the informal form, and is written as خانوم.

other examples:

باران بارون
مهربان مهربون
آسمان آسمون
نادان نادون
ناودان ناودون
کاروان کاروون
باغبان باغبون
گلدان گلدون
تهران تهرون
فرمان فرمون
جان جون
نان نون
آرام آروم

in all of these cases the one with آ / ā is formal, and the one with و / u is informal.

but to give you another example:

بادام which in formal speech is pronounced /bādām/, but in informal speech it's pronounced /bādām/ (same as formal speech) or /bādom/ or /bādum/ (all three forms), to me none sounds old fashioned, but the one with the /u/ sounds more informal than the one with the /o/ (and the one with /ā/ sounds the most formal, though as i said, it's quite common to pronounce it like this even in informal speech, and in fact it's probably the most common pronounciation in informal speech, out of the three).

also note that this usually doesn't happen with people's names or some other words, for example بهنام, a given name (and a compound noun: به / good\better + نام / name) is not pronounced as بهنوم in informal language, except by someone who has a specific accent typically associated with roughnecks and thugs especially in lower-class neighborhoods of Tehran; the only place I've ever heard such an accent is in old movies or movies portraying old Tehran, used by roughnecks and thugs; another example from this category is فرجام / ending\destiny which is NOT a given name, and it's a simple noun (not compound); another example of this category: سرسام / Meningitis which is a compound noun (سر / head + سام / swelling), does not transform to سرسوم in informal speech..

And with many (Given) names, like ماهان or کیان or سام not even those old fashioned roughnecks and thugs would spell it with و / u.

also note that the pluralization suffix ان doesn't change into ون in informal speech, since it's never used in informal speech ... in informal speech only the suffix آ / ā is used for making plurals, which is a shortened version of ها e.g. درختان or درخت ها in formal speech, will be درختا in informal speech.

  • In بادام, isn't the /m/ important to the variation between ā and u? I think I remember reading that there is a sound law changing ā to u before a nasal consonant (at least in some circumstances) in some varieties of Persian. – brass tacks Feb 11 '20 at 3:23
  • Not sure about the law, but yes in plenty of words ā changes to u before a nasal consonant such as [m] or [n], e.g. ‍باران بارون آسمان آسمون نادان نادون ناودان ناودون کاروان کاروون باغبان باغبون آرام آروم and in all these cases the one with u is used in informal speech and the one with ā is used in formal speech. in بادام however its formal form is in my experience as widely (or even more widely) used even in informal speech. – Microsoft Linux TM Feb 11 '20 at 3:40
  • @ewawe on a second thought, I think it might be related to /m/ but as i said there are exceptions, i added some to my answer. – Microsoft Linux TM Feb 11 '20 at 4:13
  • Thanks a lot! There’s usually the only ‘ālef-o nun’ rule which is mentioned in the (Russian) textbooks. So the cases like خانه—خونه are explained while the example in question is not. By the way, are you a native speaker? – Aer Feb 11 '20 at 8:40
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    @Aer Yes I'm a native speaker – Microsoft Linux TM Feb 11 '20 at 18:54

xānom is a Turko-Mongolian loan word. In borrowings of this sort fluctuation in the quantity of the vowel is commonplace, especially since the contrast of long and short vowels is not prominent in Turkish.

  • Could you please say if it is a change that is still some kind of phonetic law? And—the question in fact—why this change happens? What’s the phonetic reason for that? – Aer Nov 27 '19 at 13:22
  • I don't think it has a phonetic reason within Persian. It just represents two different attempts to replicate a foreign sound. – fdb Nov 27 '19 at 13:24
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    ... namely the ı in Turkish hanım. – fdb Nov 27 '19 at 13:33
  • I see, thanks. But the teacher I mentioned in the question also pointed out that the pronunciation with /o/ is old fashioned and now only /u/-variant is used. (Therefore the spelling without vav represents the early pronunciation.) It's not really logical to see that ı had been interpreted by the Persian both as /o/ and /u/ at the very beginning but the /o/-spelling was chosen. It seems more likely to me that the /o/-variant came first and then somehow on the phonetic ground changed to /u/. I'd like to understand where the mistake in my hypothesis is. – Aer Nov 27 '19 at 19:29
  • Maybe the -o- was under influence of کانم – Adam Bittlingmayer Nov 27 '19 at 20:49

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